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Israeli courts give free hand to Shin Bet
Shlomi Eldar

It took Israeli security forces eight hours to locate Niv Asraf hiding in the environs of the Kiryat Arba settlement on the outskirts of Hebron, and to discover that the missing 22-year-old had staged his kidnapping April 2. His friend, Eran Negauker, a noncommissioned officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), falsely reported to the police that, having experienced a malfunction in their car, Asraf had entered the Palestinian village of Beit Anun looking for tools to fix the problem, and never returned.

During the hours Asraf was supposedly “missing,” IDF forces conducted searches throughout Hebron — in the very same neighborhoods where Operation Brother`s Keeper had been conducted 10 months prior in search for the three boys, Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, who were kidnapped and murdered by a terrorist squad from the Hebron region in June 2014. Asraf was eventually found in a makeshift hideout, armed with canned food and a sleeping bag. At a news conference he later called, Asraf said he was involved in a conflict with criminal elements, and that’s why he had staged the kidnapping.

Journalist Nahum Barnea, of the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, reported in his April 10 column that during the searches in Hebron, the IDF detained a Palestinian who subsequently confessed to the kidnapping in his interrogation by the Shin Bet. The faked disappearance and forced confession again give rise to doubts about the use of so-called necessity interrogations by the Shin Bet, where the security agency is authorized to employ “special measures” in the interrogation of detainees.

It is unclear whether the Palestinian who claimed responsibility for the “kidnapping” of Asraf had indeed been subjected to “necessity interrogation.” However, lawyers specializing in civil rights cases, who represent Palestinians accused of security offenses in military courts, have told Al-Monitor that following the abduction and murder of the three Israeli youths last June, the Shin Bet was granted a sweeping license to conduct interrogations using various pressure methods, which often lead to false confessions obtained under duress.

“It is quite clear that there have been many such confessions,” attorney Gaby Lasky told Al-Monitor. Lasky, who represents the Meretz Party on the Tel Aviv City Council, is a human rights lawyer who has represented Palestinians in military courts for many years now. According to Lasky, “Ever since the ‘torture ruling’ given by the Supreme Court [June 1999], where the Supreme Court limited the use of physical means [in security-related interrogations], the court has allowed some torture in cases when the interrogation was defined as ‘a necessity interrogation.’ The number of ‘necessity interrogations’ has significantly increased since the abduction of the three boys, and there are lots of people who have been interrogated under such conditions and [consequently] admitted to all sorts of things.”

In its aforementioned ruling, the Supreme Court, sitting as a panel of nine judges presided over by Justice Aharon Barak, held that “more than once, democracy fights with one hand tied behind its back … yet, it could be argued that the difficulties faced security-wise are too numerous, and that license to use physical means during interrogation should [thus] be granted.”

Attorney Fauzi Qawasmeh, a resident of East Jerusalem who has represented Palestinian defendants before the Ofer military court for 11 years, concurs with Lasky. Since June 2014, he said, there has been a significant increase in the number of permits issued for ”necessity interrogations.” He said, “I am currently representing a client who confessed under torture that he had been a party to the abduction of the [three] boys.”

He added, “Appearing later on before the court, he stated that he had indeed admitted guilt, but that it was a false confession. Eventually, he was indicted on another charge. He was then transferred to administrative detention, and it was claimed that the confession had been given under certain circumstances. However, while the confession could not be used in criminal proceedings, the defense establishment insisted that there were intelligence indications that it was a true confession. To this day, my client is being held in administrative detention, although [officially] on another charge.

`The question is, what are the criteria for using necessity interrogations? How do you decide that someone should be judged to be a ticking bomb, and what level of information is required to obtain the Ministry of Justice authorization for conducting a necessity interrogation? After all, there were people who were interrogated in connection with the abduction of the boys, but the interrogations provided no evidence of a linkage between them and this terror act. And yet, these people did confess at the end to other offenses, such as membership in Hamas, trading in arms and so on.`

Qawasmeh said that the Shin Bet uses varied methods. Since the Supreme Court ruling, the practice of physically shaking detainees under interrogation has been prohibited, since it is liable to cause death. Still, he said, other interrogation techniques have been approved.

“The interrogators admit, and in fact, report that they have resorted to necessity interrogations,” said Qawasmeh. “They obtain a certificate of privilege, and then testify that certain special means have been used in the course of the detainee interrogation, writing down the name of the means and their significance. However, they fail to specify how many times any special measure has been used and for how long. The protocol remains confidential. Usually, a detainee is seated on a backless chair, with his legs straddled on the front of the chair. He is then pushed back and his hands are straddled backward, so that his body gets the shape of a banana. That’s what the interrogators themselves call it — a `banana.` And all that time, they take care not to let him put his feet on the floor. These are the sort of things that they admit to.

`I have heard of other things, as well. There is another measure that is used during necessity interrogations. They cover the eyes of the interrogated detainee and stage an attack on him. The detainee knows that he is surrounded by interrogators, and he gets slapped [in the face] and punched [all over]. Or the detainee would be seated on a table, while one of his interrogators pulls his hands and another one pulls his head back. These methods are all approved by the Ministry of Justice. Since June [2014], such practices have become ever more common, as apparently, whoever is in charge of issuing those permits has adopted a more permissive approach. In many cases, I encounter in court defendants who have been subjected to Shin Bet interrogations under [supposedly] regular conditions, and they tell me: ‘I admitted guilt just to get over with it. I was in solitary confinement, under tough conditions, and the interrogators pressured me.’”

According to Qawasmeh, the dilemma in the struggle of democracy against terrorism is where to draw the line. “I believe that the courts here give the security elements a free hand in these matters,” he said, “especially when it comes to remand extension, when the court is well aware of the circumstances but turns a blind eye [to the injustice done].”

The Shin Bet response:

`The Israel Security Agency (ISA) [the Shin Bet] and its employees are acting strictly within the law and are subject to internal and external supervision and control, including by the state comptroller, the state attorney`s office, the attorney general, the Israeli Knesset and all instances of the courts, up to the Supreme Court. We would like to emphasize that those detained for ISA interrogation are granted the full humanitarian rights they are entitled to under the international conventions the State of Israel is signed onto and in accordance with Israeli law, including medical treatment, meetings with lawyers and visits by the Red Cross.`

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